As usual it was a need to know basis with Spartak and Bashkim, this time regarding how I was to get to Bitola. Rohan and I barely had a minute to say goodbye to each other at Hotel Illiria as our leaders ushered us away. Rohan in a new Merc was headed North to Dubrovnik, me East in a shitty old Kia headed to a bus stop somewhere nearby in Tirana, to then transfer into a smelly 12 seater bus on to a village near Elbasan. During the bus trip I met a very beautiful and most intelligent women named Blerta. We chatted all the way, non-stop. She spoke French/English fluently. At the end of our trip we exchanged numbers so we could catchup when I got back to Tirana.
I was met by two men and a taxi driver who was to take me to Bitola. We pretty much drove non-stop. I was starving. Had to literally force the driver to stop for fruit and water. We drove on, chatting away about all kinds of stuff, all the passengers were very eager to know about Australia. My Albanian was certainly improving, I could actually communicate intelligible info!
The border was crazy and necessary in a place where two nation peoples generally don’t really like or trust each other. Macedonia was visibly different, its streets somewhat more cared for, cleaner, just as old yet more modern.
We stopped to get water at a mountain spring. My Taxi driver approached some random guy to ask him to phone my 1st cousin Shermin or Fatime for directions. It turned out that he was Fatime’s brother in-law. What an amazing coincidence! We followed Sunaje literally all the way to the front door of my 1st cousin Nevzat’s house. I paid cabby 8,000lek, $80AU for 3hr taxi ride, not bad at all! I was most grateful and amazed at the coincidence, something was looking out for me :).
Cousin Sebajdin arrived soon after, we went for a drive to his and Nevsat’s work at the coal electricity plant situated next to a dam. We passed through village of Novaci, which is where my cousin Skender’s wifes (Viki) family came from. Sebajdin’s son Zinka and his friend were also in the car with us. Sebajdin told me short stories of how Zenel would take him fishing at the dam when they were young. Zenel had also worked at the plant, which is how his sons got their jobs I believe.
We then took off for the mountains to Baba Planira Pelister in the National Park Pelister, we were about 1500ft above sea level. A windy road with several fresh water stops. We went for a walk amongst the native pines to a an incredible look-out spot. The air was water fountains were cold and refreshing in the hot humid summer. I was just imagining my mother and her family coming here for walks when she was young. It was a comforting thought to be there. It was the most stunning location I had been at so far in my trip.
Went ventured on to a hotel owned by the coal mines to have coffee. I spoke to the waiter in Albanian and was promptly told by Sebajdin not to as there was still animosity between the two nationalities. We stayed some minutes and then headed home. On the way we passed by the tobacco factory my uncle Zenel used to also work at.
I eventually met Nevzat, his wife Shermin, their three beautiful daughters Gulten, Gulshen and Hulja who also spoke English very well. Sebajdin’s wife Fatime and their handsome sons Erdzan and Zinka (Zenel) were also there. As was Seb and Nev’s mum Firdes (Zenel’s wife). I cant begin to describe how warm and welcoming the experience was. Here I was finally sitting with my cousins for the first time ever, yet I felt like I knew them all my life. It brought a joyful tear to my eye.
After sometime I went for a walk with Sebajdin down the main Bitola 3km mall. The place was busy with people, it was a late balmy night. I saw amazing old neo-classical and Ottoman period buildings, cool bars dotted every few meters, communist period monuments and graffiti wherever there was space. We sat at a café whilst Seb told me stories of my cousin Nev’s time their in the 70’s.
We went back home as I was very tired from another long and amazing day.